Driving While Deaf (DWD)
And Hearing With Your Feet
There’s something nice that happens when the battery on my hearing device* dies mid-drive and I’m left to driving in complete silence. It’s especially nice at night, when driving by myself on a cool summer night with the windows and sunroof open, like I was tonight.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather be listening to the acoustic guitar intro of My Name is Jonas at a speaker-blowing level, but sometimes you need to make fermented apple juice after life hands you a bucket of rotten apples.
*Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI)
They say when you lose a sense, the other senses go into hyperdrive and compensate for the missing one. I was hoping to get X-Ray vision, but that hasn’t happened yet. But, I have noticed an increase in the ability to feel vibrations. Mostly through my feet. Which is kinda weird.
The first time I ever noticed this newfound pheetnomena (ha!), was at the mall. I was standing on the second floor scanning through the directory — probably looking for the Chipotle — when I noticed the floor vibrating and swaying below me.
“Holy shit! We’re all gonna die!”
Seconds later, my brain snapped back into place, I realized that the building was most likely engineered to do that to avoid a collapse, so I pulled up my big-boy pants and headed out for some extra guac.
I had a lot of concerns about my driving future as I was losing my hearing.
- Are deaf people allowed to drive?
- Do I need a special license?
- Am I going to crash?
- What happens if I get pulled over?
- Sort of, I brought a doctor’s note to the DMV and they added a code on the license, not much different than a corrective lenses requirement.
- Maybe, but it’s not because I can’t hear.
- I haven’t had the pleasure to get this answered yet.
For the most part, driving isn’t that much different. I typically double check directions when pulling into an intersection or lane. And I probably check my mirrors more than I used to.
Parking lots are a bit of a nightmare though. They’re a nightmare for most people, especially these modern parking lots that involve traffic signs, curbs and shrubbery. But, it’s mainly backing out of the space safely. I can’t hear the carts rolling at me or the people talking and walking. So, I just make an effort to crawl out of the spot, basically pumping the brakes as I back up and whipping my head around like Regan from the Exorcist. Sometimes, I’ll even instinctively roll down the windows, which is similar to lowering the radio when you’re trying to follow crucial directions, it achieves nothing.
The ABI does create sounds for me while driving, it’s mostly a static type sound, but there are times when the volume or pitch will change, alerting me that there is another vehicle nearby. It also picks up the sound of an ambulance or police car when they’re relatively close, which is helpful.
I have yet to have a flat tire or major mechanical problem, but the “feel” of the road is now much more apparent. The pedals will rumble when I drive on grooved pavement. Hitting those rumble strips on the shoulder are a real jolt to the sneakers.
The opposite will happen, when I drive on super smooth asphalt — the ‘sound’ in my feet disappears and everything is smooth and ‘quiet.’
I was terrified the first time driving with the bikes on the roof with the rack that I had installed. I asked my sons to let me know if they heard any “funny sounds” while barreling down the Garden State Parkway at 70 miles per hour. That raised their eyebrows, but we all made it safely to our destination without watching our bikes fly off the roof and break into a million pieces.
Sometimes driving without hearing can be really boring though. Mostly highway driving. I can’t take part in any conversation and the radio is obviously no longer a viable source of entertainment, so I’m typically left with thoughts running through my head. Depending on the amount of caffeine in my system, this can be fun. I craft conversations or little stories in my head — some of the stories build into a bigger stories, some just fade away with the traffic. I wrote the basic premise for this while driving tonight and actually had the time to sit down and type it out.
Maybe someday, they’ll develop technology that transcribes my thoughts to text and I’ll make a gazillion dollars publishing them from the road. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep on truckin’ with all of those voices in my head and feelings in my feet.